Me and Momma and Big John
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Me and Momma and Big John

4.0 1
by Mara Rockliff, William Low
     
 
Momma is a stonecutter at the cathedral called Big John — and little John and his sisters can't wait to see her special stone — in this luminous true-life story.

"Building a cathedral isn’t a job, it’s an art."
Momma comes home from work, tired and sore from a long day at her job. She used to work on the factory

Overview

Momma is a stonecutter at the cathedral called Big John — and little John and his sisters can't wait to see her special stone — in this luminous true-life story.

"Building a cathedral isn’t a job, it’s an art."
Momma comes home from work, tired and sore from a long day at her job. She used to work on the factory line, but now an early bus takes her across the bridge into New York City. Momma is a stonecutter now, helping to build the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. She works all day on just one stone, and little John and his two sisters wonder how she does it. Finally, Momma’s stone is finished, and little John can’t wait to see it. But when he arrives at the cathedral, he’s confused. Where is Momma’s name? How will all the people know this is Momma’s art? This touching story from a child’s perspective, based on real events, lovingly shows the grace and dignity of having pride in one’s work — and in one’s Momma. Gorgeously illustrated with the illuminated artwork of William Low, the transcendent beauty of Saint John’s Cathedral radiates with warmth and light.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When John’s mother trudges home from her first day as a stonecutter, “She is gray as ashes, from her headscarf to her boots. Even her bouncy beaded earrings have gone dull as dirt.” What’s more, it’s all from cutting just one stone, “and it’s not done yet.” But Momma doesn’t mind the hard work because she’s a stonecutter at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, and what she does “isn’t just a job.... It’s an art.” With Rockliff’s (My Heart Will Not Sit Down) plainspoken lyricism providing scaffolding for Low’s (Machines Go to Work) incandescent realism, the story of a struggling family transformed through the joy and power of meaningful work is woven into the history of a beloved spiritual landmark. Whether the scene is inside the narrator’s modest apartment or looking down from the barrel vault ceiling onto the cathedral’s magnificent nave, every page is infused with golden light, quiet pride, and soaring hope. An afterword provides background on the still-unfinished cathedral and the training program that employed people like Momma. Ages 3–8. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
With Rockliff’s plainspoken lyricism providing scaffolding for Low’s incandescent realism, the story of a struggling family transformed through the joy and power of meaningful work is woven into the history of a beloved spiritual landmark. Whether the scene is inside the narrator’s modest apartment or looking down from the barrel vault ceiling onto the cathedral’s magnificent nave, every page is infused with golden light, quiet pride, and soaring hope.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This is the rare children’s book that shows how a building is built with less of an emphasis on cranes and bulldozers and more on the difficult work of laboring hands. But it's not only about the grueling hardness of labor; ME AND MOMMA AND BIG JOHN is also about the rewards of a labor of love, and of a job well done.
—New York Times online

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Young John, our narrator, greets his mother along with his sister and brother when she returns from work, tired and covered with gray dust. She has been hired to cut stone for the cathedral in the city called Big John. She describes for them how huge the cathedral is. After many days she has been working on just one stone. John expects to see his mother's name on the stone, like the art he has seen in the museum. When the stone is finished, the whole African American family goes to see it. Although her name is not on it, Momma knows that many people will come and see it, high atop the cathedral. And the family knows that their mother made it. This huge, impressive subject uses a large, double-page arena to tell its tale. Computer generated images, impressionistically naturalistic, fill the space with the young family, the strong African American artist mother, and the piece of stone she is shaping for the enormous cathedral. A note about the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City fills in the background of the story based on fact.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2—When Momma comes home from working as a stonecutter for New York City's St. John the Divine, affectionately known as "Big John," she is tired and covered with dust. It is hard work, and no one knows how many decades it will take to finish the cathedral. Her middle son, the narrator, is amazed when he finds out that all this time she has only worked on one stone. His mother explains that what she does is an art, and the boy proudly imagines Momma's name on display in a museum. When they visit Big John, the boy is disappointed to find that his mother's stone looks identical to all the others, and that no one will ever know which is hers. But as they experience the majesty of the cathedral and lift their voices in song, he realizes that there is an art to being part of something bigger than yourself. Luminous digital paintings create warm family scenes and bright cityscapes, and capture the majesty of the building. Light and shadow are deftly employed to create drama and depth, heighten emotion, and portray the sacred nature of the structure and the spirit of community it engenders. Featuring a close-knit African American family, this is lovely addition.—Anna Haase Krueger, formerly at Antigo Public Library, WI
Kirkus Reviews
A son tells of his mother's new job cutting stone for "Big John," New York City's yet-unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine. He focuses his mother's experiences at the cathedral through his own lens: She comes home covered in gray dust after daily labor on a single stone. Is his mother's work like an artist's, whose pictures hang in the museum? When the family visits Big John's stone yard and soaring interiors, he understands that her contribution--painstakingly crafted, yet so small--will take its place "high above the people, Momma's stone touching the sky." Drawing from historical details about a 25-year apprenticeship program begun in 1982, Rockliff's lyrical text celebrates collaboration and communion, whether as voices rising in a cathedral hymn or among the skilled workers who labored over more than a century. Low (Old Penn Station, 2007) renders many gorgeous digital spreads, articulating the extraordinary light and deep shadows within and outside the architecturally splendid cathedral. Combining the look of thick, fuzzy-edged pastel on paper with gouache on textured board, the illustrations are less successful in the figurative depictions. Awkwardly drawn shoes, feet and legs, along with some variation in the appearance of the daughter, are minor distractions from the overall strong visual appeal. An intriguing examination of the inside story of one of New York City's most important and beloved monuments. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)
The New York Times
William Low's artwork movingly reflects the domestic lives of Momma and her children as well as the flying buttresses of the immense cathedral, depicting each with sensitivity, and drawing the contrast between the two. This is the rare children's book that shows how a building is built with less of an emphasis on cranes and bulldozers and more on the difficult work of laboring hands.
—Pamela Paul

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780763643591
Publisher:
Candlewick Press
Publication date:
08/28/2012
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
11.90(w) x 10.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile:
AD660L (what's this?)
Age Range:
3 - 7 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
With Rockliff’s plainspoken lyricism providing scaffolding for Low’s incandescent realism, the story of a struggling family transformed through the joy and power of meaningful work is woven into the history of a beloved spiritual landmark. Whether the scene is inside the narrator’s modest apartment or looking down from the barrel vault ceiling onto the cathedral’s magnificent nave, every page is infused with golden light, quiet pride, and soaring hope.
—Publishers Weekly

This is the rare children’s book that shows how a building is built with less of an emphasis on cranes and bulldozers and more on the difficult work of laboring hands. But it's not only about the grueling hardness of labor; ME AND MOMMA AND BIG JOHN is also about the rewards of a labor of love, and of a job well done.
—New York Times online

Meet the Author

William Low is a much-lauded illustrator, author, and painter who has received numerous awards. His books include Chinatown and Old Penn Station. He lives in New York City.

William Low is a much-lauded illustrator, author, and painter who has received numerous awards. His books include CHINATOWN and OLD PENN STATION. He lives in New York City.

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Me and Momma and Big John 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Gardenseed More than 1 year ago
A little boy's momma goes off to work each day at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City to cut a stone for one of its unfinished towers. After many days of work the stone is finished and momma takes her children to the cathedral to see her stone and those of the other stonecutters set in place. The boy understands that although his mother's artwork, stonecutting, will never make her famous, it has taken many people to construct this very special building where "people will come together...Not for an art to look at. For an art to be." Large paintings illustrate the story and set the scene. A brief history is provided at the end. Beautifully told, this is a book to be treasured. This book could be enjoyed at any age including older picture book readers.